Dreaming of power

APPROXIMATELY 18 nautical miles from mainland Cebu, at the northernmost tip of the province, is the small island of Carnaza.The turtle-shaped village of some 3,000 people is a sleepy fishing community in Daanbantayan, a town known for its white sand beaches and vast marine resources.But unlike the other beautiful spots in the bustling municipality, Carnaza is less visited by tourists, let alone by progress. The place sits quietly in the middle of the sea, almost at an obscure corner of the broader affluent society.Despite the growing rate of electrification, the remote island remains in the dark; if not for small generator sets and costly solar panels purchased by some residents to power their homes.Carnaza National High School principal Rafael Beloria recalls his days growing up on the island when he had simple dreams of electricity for his neighborhood.Beloria returned to Carnaza in 1998 to teach at the newly opened public high school.“We were in such agony before. We didn’t have the generator yet,” said Beloria.The high school acquired its first generator five years later to power lights and a screeching sound system.“We didn’t have the budget to buy fuel so we only used the generator for special activities. In 2016, the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) bought a bigger genset to power a few computers and other equipment,” Beloria recounted.But fluctuating power from the school’s 5-kva generator had beaten down and destroyed important equipment.“The equipment could run only a few hours before sudden power outages. We resorted to scheduling computers and projectors; and our students were left with very limited access to essential learning tools,” said Beloria.At the other side of the isleOver at Carnaza Elementary School on the other side of the island, dire scenes of shirtless little children attending class as the heat becomes unbearable in their overcrowded classrooms.“There were no electric fans in a room full of 60 to 70 pupils. Others would go out in the middle of class for some air,” recalled Remedios Beloria, the elementary school’s principal, and also Rafael’s wife.“When we were finally able to get a small generator, we used it sparingly because we did not have the enormous budget needed for fuel,” she said.Remedios now giggles at some of her memories of the school’s not-so-distant past — such as when pupils complained about her sketch of an animal.“I’m no artist but teachers had no choice but to make our own drawings since we couldn’t print materials. Kids always want to see pictures,” she explained.For children, access to energy can improve education by allowing better understanding through various teaching resources.Steve Beloria, one of the teachers at the island’s elementary school, remembers how he used to scream at the top of his lungs when his lapel microphone lost its battery after hours of teaching.“I’d lose my voice because I taught the whole day and the mic’s battery was only good for three hours,” he said.Today, the two schools have several power outlets, electric fans, projectors, computers, air conditioners, freezers and refrigerators that can run 24/7.Project RELYWhere power connection costs become a burden to many, for Carnaza residents, the fulfillment of their dream came free.Project RELY (Renewable Energy for Livelihood and Youth), funded by the European Union (1.8 million euros) and co-funded by the Federal Government of Germany, has energized Carnaza’s schools through a solar power system that could generate over 42,000 watts-peak (Wp) of electricity combined.The system was installed with the help of school officials and community leaders.“We look forward to the time when the students are able to come to school physically and experience how their learning conditions have improved,” RELY project director Sabine Schacknat said during the turnover ceremony of the off-grid source, which took place in March 2020 amid Covid-19 related protocols.Project RELY was implemented by Sequa GmbH, a globally operating non-profit development organization from Germany, in cooperation with Vivant Foundation and PROCESS-Bohol.Beyond the school grounds on that historic day, the residents’ excitement was palpable.“We had a fiesta atmosphere,” Rafael said.Lives changedMonths into limited face-to-face classes which began last March 2022, students and teachers already have a mouthful of stories about what awaits them post-solar energization days.“I get excited going to class wondering what our teachers have for us. Learning is no longer a burden, my morale greatly improved,” said Jasmine Conejos, a senior high school student.For Jiffer Gacutan, 16, the school’s access to electricity saved him money on printing.“I am very thankful because I only have to provide bond papers,” he said.Internet access also made things a lot easier for everyone.“Our kids can now easily catch up and they are motivated to study,” said Helen Yanong, PTA head.In a brightly lit classroom, Aireen Rojas gathers students to try a new recipe for Home Economics. Pulling out an electric mixer from the shelf, she proudly begins to knead dough.“Look at the big difference. No more problems with the cake’s consistency unlike before when we did this manually,” she declared.Across the building, teacher Cristina Capangpangan conducts hands-on trainings on technical vocational courses.“Enrollment doubled since we started using equipment,” she said as more and more students aspire for government licenses to find work.“Many who passed licensure exams are now earning from sidelines doing wellness massage or hair dressing,” she added.Carnaza’s schools gladly share renewable power through a charging station that’s open to all and the free printing of official documents. Community meetings are also held inside the schools.A bakery run by Carnaza Women’s Association which has brought life into the organization and given locals opportunities to earn, taps its power supply from the nearby elementary school.One of Carnaza’s longest-serving high school teachers, Alfredo Comendador, said all this is a “dream come true.”“The time has finally come. Thank you, Lord!” Comendador said.Meanwhile, on a worn-out page of her diary, a student writes: Our little school of Carnaza was just a dreamer. We have awaken.